Why are honey bees dying?

The honeybee population has dropped by nearly a third in Australia in the past decade, with the loss of some 80 per cent of the remaining colonies in the country.

While the loss is great news for bees, experts warn the honeybee’s demise is not inevitable, with a number of factors behind the crisis.

The honey bee population in Australia is estimated at more than 7,000, but according to the latest Australian Department of Primary Industries and Forestry (APFI) report released on Wednesday, the number of pollinators has been falling steadily.APFI said the honey bee decline was a result of an increased threat from pesticides, climate change and the introduction of neonicotinoid insecticides.

The APFI report said it was time to “rethink the approach” and focus on improving the quality of the honeybees, rather than simply the number.

“Pollinator populations are being reduced and, in some areas, the loss has been so great that we’re not able to continue to maintain and sustain pollinator populations,” APFI chief executive Heather Reardon said.

“We’re really concerned about how our honeybee populations are going to be affected by the decline.”

While some bees are still able to survive on a small portion of the landscape, APFI said there was a lack of research to determine whether or not this is sustainable.

“There’s a lot of unanswered questions in terms of how the honey bees are going in terms in terms to how they’re going to recover from the loss,” APPI director of research Robyn O’Sullivan said.

She said the APFI study found that the most important factors behind honeybee declines were habitat loss and a lack the ability to raise hives in large numbers.

“Honey bees have been on the decline for more than two decades, and while we’ve seen some changes in the population we’re also seeing some changes to the way we’re managing the honey, so it’s not just changing how we grow the honey but how we manage the honey,” O’Neill said.APPI also found the introduction and distribution of neonics in the late 1990s and early 2000s contributed to the decline of honeybees in Australia.

It found that in areas with a high proportion of colonies with neonics, there was an increased risk of honey bee deaths.

“Aneonics in these areas are associated with higher mortality rates, increased numbers of infestations and an increased incidence of infestation of hives,” the APPI report found.

In the past two decades the honey industry has grown by nearly $4 billion, with apiaries in the ACT growing by nearly 300 per cent.

But beekeepers say apiaries need to be managed to ensure pollinators can survive in a changing climate.

“I would really like to see them not be able to be maintained at the current levels, and they’re not doing it,” beekeeper and conservation activist Andrew Stinson said.

Topics:bees—pollination,pollination-and-beekeeping,animals,environment,beekeepingFirst posted February 09, 2020 08:47:16Contact Rebecca TaylorMore stories from New South Wales

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